Socialist Worker

Britain’s chilling role in Northern Ireland death squads revealed

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2003

Republican poster from 1974

Republican poster from 1974


The British state is guilty of murder and terrorism.

The government, army generals and their media cohorts have repeatedly claimed that Northern Ireland provides the blueprint for the British army’s operations in Iraq.

New documents prove that the British government was, from as early as 1973, aware of widespread collusion between security forces and Loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland.

The government wanted to back up pro-British Protestant groups against the Catholics, who were systematically discriminated against.

The documents, which date from August 1973, were discovered by Alan Brecknell, a researcher from the Pat Finucane centre in Northern Ireland.

His father was killed in a sectarian attack in 1975 in which members of the Northern Irish security services have been implicated.

This is the first time evidence has emerged to show not only the scale of collusion but also that the government was aware of it early in the Troubles.

The files include a detailed report called “Subversion in the UDR” (Ulster Defence Regiment) prepared by the intelligence services.

This and other documents show the government knew that significant numbers of soldiers were linked to Loyalist paramilitaries, but failed to act.

They include estimates of the numbers of soldiers linked to Loyalists groups. Documents show how more than 200 British army rifles and submachine guns were passed to Loyalist paramilitaries in one year.

The discredited “B Specials”, an exclusively Protestant part time police reserve, was abolished in 1969 and replaced in 1970 by the UDR.

It became the largest regiment in the British army. The UDR was to recruit solely in Northern Ireland.

The documents reveal that military intelligence:

  • Estimated 5-15 percent of UDR soldiers were linked to Loyalist paramilitaries.
  • Believed that the “best single source of weapons, and the only significant source of modern weapons, for Protestant extremist groups was the UDR”.
  • Knew that UDR weapons were being used in the murder and attempted murder of Catholics.

Tension

As the Troubles unfolded, the government went on to increase, rather than decrease, the regiment’s role in areas of high tension in Northern Ireland.

In the two years from August 1973 UDR members took part in the Miami showband massacre, and were linked to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings that killed 33 people.

British and Unionist politicians blamed UDR wrongdoing on a few “bad apples” but that argument withered in the face of a catalogue of sectarian incidents.

Complete figures for criminal activity by UDR members were never disclosed but by 1991 it was admitted that 17 had been convicted for murder.

It was the tip of an iceberg – offenders left the regiment before appearing in court, while collusion with Loyalists accounted for an unknown number of illegal acts.

For instance, in South Armagh alone Loyalist murder gangs, working hand in hand with members of the UDR and Northern Irish police (the RUC) were responsible for at least 32 attacks, involving 87 killings.

Collusion

Britain’s collusion with Loyalist killer gangs, and the cover-up, did not just involve a few rogue army and police officers. It went right to the top.

British prime ministers were aware of collusion and believed security forces were “handing information to” Loyalist leader Ian Paisley.

The report “Subversion in the UDR” was written by military intelligence and ministry of defence officials, with one civil servant expressing fears over the questions that “are bound to follow once it has reached No 10”.

This is confirmed by a further document, stamped “confidential”, which records a meeting in September 1975 – two years after the original document was written.

Harold Wilson, the then Labour prime minister, and Merlyn Rees, his secretary of state for Northern Iraeland, briefed the then leader of the opposition, Margaret Thatcher.

A section of the minutes, marked “confidential”, reads, “The secretary of state said that he was more worried by the current sectarian murders than by the bombings in Belfast.

“Unfortunately there were certain elements in the police who were very close to the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) and who were prepared to hand over information, for example, to Mr Paisley.”


Murder was allowed and organised to protect the sectarian state

Britain’s role in the 30-year war in Northern Ireland was as much based on lies and brutality as the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Far from keeping two warring sides apart, the British state either allowed or organised the murder of large numbers of mainly Catholic citizens.

From the late 1970s, various British governments backed a secret unit of the army, the Force Research Unit (FRU), along with the special branch of the RUC, supplied names, addresses and photographs of Catholic targets to Loyalist paramilitaries.

The key person supplying the information was British army agent Brian Nelson.

He infiltrated the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the biggest Loyalist paramilitary group.

His information was responsible for the murder of at least 30 Catholics.

These included many who had no connection to the IRA, including the Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

Pat Finucane was murdered by the Loyalist Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), the UDA’s death squad, in 1989.

One of his killers, Ken Barrett, was released from prison last week.

He said Brian Nelson had handed him information.

Jack Grantham, a former FRU handler, later described Nelson’s role in “using the UFF as an extension of the operational capability of the British army.

“By that I mean refining their targeting, increasing their operational efficiency by re-arming them and using them to target known subversives which fitted the criteria and other type of person that the FRU wanted eliminating.”

As Pat Finucane’s son Michael Finucane says, “The system worked exactly as intended, and in the British government’s eyes it worked perfectly. The policy in Northern Ireland was about a government assassinating its own people.”

The FRU was led by colonel Gordon Kerr.

He is now rumoured to be involved in intelligence work in occupied Iraq, as befits one of the most powerful men in British military intelligence.


The disturbing history of an army gun

The single page of typed sentences looks like a common or garden shopping list, but its contents are chilling:

“February 3rd, kidnapping…”

“February 20th, attempted murder…”

“May 9th, attempted murder…”

Number “6” on the list of Loyalist paramilitary attacks reads: “31/5/73 – The murder of Thomas Curry, and the attempted murder of others in Muldoon’s bar, Tomb St. Fired cases found at the scene.”

The page is entitled “Annex E” and is attached to the document “Subversion in the UDR”. Annex E lists 11 Loyalist attacks, including references to a murder, a kidnapping, two unidentified shooting incidents and seven attempted murders – all carried out with a single weapon. This weapon, a Sterling submachine gun, was stolen from King’s Park camp, a UDR base in Lurgan, in October 1972.

Troops at the base “were ‘overpowered’ by a number of armed men” – the report’s author used inverted commas to signal his scepticism.

“The possibility of collusion is therefore highly probable,” the report says. “It is difficult to resist the conclusion that members

of the UDR were party

to these incidents.”

The Loyalist gang left with 85 semi-automatic rifles and 21 sub-machine guns.

The main document explains, “One of the Sterling SMGs stolen from the Lurgan centre was recovered in the Shankill on 21 July 1973 in the possession of three men, two of whom were known members of the Shankill UFF/UVF group. They had just robbed a bar.

“Research at the Data Reference Centre has subsequently indicated that this weapon has been used in at least 12 terrorist outrages, including the murder of a Catholic, and seven other attempted murders.”


Criminals with blood on their hands

  • Force Research Unit (FRU). One of the British army’s most secret units, which infiltrated Loyalist paramilitary gangs.
  • Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). The UDR was formed in 1970 to replace the disgraced B Specials police reserve. It recruited exclusively in Northern Ireland and eventually became almost 100 percent Protestant. It was merged with another military unit in 1992 to form the Royal Irish Regiment. Its battalions are being disbanded.
  • Brian Nelson. FRU agent who passed names and addresses of Catholics to Loyalist gangs. He was arrested in 1992. Two counts of murder against him were dropped. Nelson got a ten-year sentence for conspiracy to murder.
  • Ulster Defence Association (UDA). Loyalist paramilitary group, which organised pogroms against Catholics at the beginning of the Troubles.
  • Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF). Another Loyalist murder gang which operated under the cover of the UDA.
  • Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Northern Ireland’s overwhelmingly Protestant police force. It has been renamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Special branch is an arm of the police in Northern Ireland.
  • Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). A loyalist paramilitary group formed in 1966.


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